Quiet, sombre and full of grey and weathered headstones – this, a typical English cemetery, is what you will find up and down the country in the UK. It’s not uncommon to find similar cemeteries here in Romania too; there are plenty of them – however, one cemetery in particular, located in the small village of Săpânța, does things a little differently.”Cimitirul Vesel” or “Merry Cemetery” is a place like no other. Headstones are brightly painted, lavishly decorated and depict life stories, poems, drawings and carvings of the person buried beneath. Often, the pictures are humorous and the verses written below are full of jokes and satire. These monuments are seen as great celebrations of loved characters whose families want them to be remembered in a unique way.
An example of a humorous epitaph from the Merry Cemetery:
“Underneath this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother-in-law
Had she lived three days more
I would be here and she would read this
You that are passing by
Try not to wake her up
For if she comes back home
She’ll bite my head off
But I will act in the way
That she will not return
Stay here my dear
Romania – home to one of the most famous legends of all time…Dracula. With such spooky tales and macabre folk stories surrounding its landscape and embellishing its history, it was quite a shock to discover that “Halloween” does not exist in Romania. You would think it was the perfect place to go mad with halloween celebrations and really embrace all that is scary – but it simply isn’t part of the tradition here.
Walking through the high streets of England during the Halloween period is very interesting. Everything you can possibly imagine has been adapted to have a spooky theme in order to cash in on this popular, and seemingly very western, celebration. From fake cobwebs in windows, to cakes with black bat icing – it is hard to miss references to Halloween everywhere you look.
In Romania, it is very different. October 31st is just an ordinary day – no decorations, no trick or treaters, no carved pumpkins or costume parties. This seemed so odd to me having grown up in the UK; where Halloween is slowly becoming just as big of a deal as it is in America.
Although there is not a Halloween celebration, on 1st-2nd November in Romania, ‘The day of the dead’ is celebrated. People gather in cemeteries, with flowers, candles and gifts, to appreciate the lost people in their lives and to share memories with family and friends. This is quite a big occasion for Romanian people, and in the days leading up to the day of the dead, family members will attend to the graves of their relatives – making the areas look really beautiful in preparation for the day itself. It is a much more meaningful celebration in a lot of ways than our typical Halloween and it is refreshing to experience a place that is still mostly untouched by a lot of ‘western’ and commercial ideas.
“We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.” – Bram Stoker’s Dracula